Many NBA players retire early because of different reasons, including health or a change in careers. Some teams and their managing bodies may also forcefully retire players because of poor performances in the court.
It may not matter if the reason is an injury or a forced retirement, NBA players will leave the professional basketball scene eventually. But, some athletes do it earlier than others.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the common reasons why NBA players retire. We’re also going to tackle some relevant topics, such as who had the longest and shortest NBA careers.
The average retirement age of many NBA players would be around 36 to 39 years. As per a July 2020 statistics report that studied several hundred NBA players throughout generations, the investigators found that the most number of injuries encountered in the league were players with the ages of 31 to 34 years. Some of these players had no choice but to retire from the sport, such as Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, and these athletes weren’t even at 30 years old when they had to leave the NBA.
But, how many NBA players retire each year? The answer to that question varies per season. Some seasons, like the 1958-1959 playoffs, had about 14 players retired, according to one basketball enthusiast’s report. However, some seasons saw over 20 players retiring during or after specific seasons.
Why do Many NBA Players Retire Early?
Albeit the average age of retirement in the NBA is about 36 to 39 years, some athletes were forced into or have decided to quit the league. The reasons for their withdrawal from the professional basketball association may include (but not limited to) the following:
Basketball is a contact sport. Not only does it needs optimal health, it also requires quick thinking and split-second decisions to stay on top of the game (no pun intended). However, it is with those causes that incidents can take place at any time during games.
One player to mention in this context is Andrew Bynum. Drafted in 2005 to the NBA, many people, both fans and teammates, became excited when he stepped into the court. College basketball enthusiasts know of Bynum’s performance at St. Joseph High School as he averaged 22.4 points during his senior year alone.
But it was only about three years of playing within the professional basketball scene when Bynum suffered a dislocated kneecap. Although he was able to recover from that specific injury, it was only the precursor to an injury avalanche. In 2014, he called it quits and left the NBA at the age of 26.
Some players would continue their NBA careers despite experiencing injuries. But, these athletes would most likely have to deal with sudden pains or unexpected discomforts while playing. In turn, these NBA players may have reduced athletic performances, which might even lead to further injuries down the line.
Lack of Talent to Compete
Some NBA players may perform significantly well during the high school and college days. It is for that reason that teams in the professional basketball league would scout these athletes, hoping to acquire a rising star.
However, some of these athletes might be late bloomers upon entering the NBA. Certain NBA players may encounter a point that would lead them to win the hearts of fans, team members, and team managers. But, many players may have to settle being benched for most of the basketball seasons.
Players that perform either mediocrely or poorly might be in the running to become replaced by better athletes. If these players don’t improve their performance soon, their managers or coaches might force them into early retirement.
At its core, basketball is a very dynamic sport. Several players may need to fill various roles to help the team win. It is a classic case of ‘there is no “I” in “Team.”’ Almost everything that happens in the court would have to be a team effort.
But, what happens if the center becomes injured mid-match and no one in the team is tall enough to block shots successfully? Perhaps the coach would have to send the second tallest man to play. But, that specific athlete may not do well as a center as he might excel as a small forward or point guard. That lack of experience and skill might eventually lead to the team losing an important match.
Players that seem to have serious difficulties in adjusting may not keep up with games. As a result, managing staff members of teams may decide to let these athletes go.
Which Players Had the Longest NBA Careers?
Although some NBA players leave the league during their late 20s or 30s, some stick around until they reach their 40s. Some professional basketball players deemed to have the longest NBA careers in history are:
Vince Carter (22 Seasons)
Long-time basketball enthusiasts know the name Vince Lamar Carter, Jr., for the reasonably simple fact that this player spent the most time on the court than relatively any basketball player in history (at the time of writing). With 22 seasons in his back, Carter played for eight teams as a shooting guard and small forward. Some of the teams he partnered with are the Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, and Toronto Raptors. Among these teams, Carter spent the most time with the Raptors.
Robert Parish (21 Seasons)
Robert Lee Parish, also known as ‘The Chief’ and ‘Slim’ by his peers and fans, was the center for four teams during his time in the NBA. But, he was also in that position for 21 long seasons.
Parish started in the NBA in 1976 when he was 23 years old. His last game was during the 1996-1997 season when he retired in reasonably old age (as a professional athlete) at 43. During his last games, Parish also played with legends Michael Jordon and Scottie Pippen on the Chicago Bulls.
Kevin Willis (21 Seasons)
Center and power forward Kevin Willis ties with Parish for the second-place spot for having the most number of seasons played for the NBA. Willis played for the league from 1984 to 2007, and he lent his skills and talents to ten total tiles. In 2003, he also helped his team, the San Antonio Spurs, won the championship.
Aside from Carter, Parish, and Willis, other notable players with fairly long NBA careers are:
Which Players Had the Shortest NBA Careers?
At the other end of the spectrum, some players decided to leave the professional basketball lifestyle early. Here are some of the names of NBA players who retired early, regardless if they left by force or by choice.
Tyson Aaron Wheeler was the point guard for the Toronto Raptors in the 1998-1999 NBA playoffs. Wheeler was a standout point guard for a relatively small drafting program by Toronto’s professional basketball team.
However, he decided to sign a non-guaranteed deal and only stepped into the court for a total of three minutes. But, he was able to rack up four points to help the Raptors at that time. Wheeler would soon return to Europe after that one season where he started a coaching career.
Born in Belgrade, Serbia, Slavko Vranes was the center for the Portland Trail Blazers back in the 2003-2004 season. Standing at a massive 7’5’’, many feared his height as opposing players would assume Vranes would grab or slap balls from a distance.
But, fate had other plans for Vranes as he only played in one game for three minutes. He also had one personal foul before allowing his NBA career to end.
Robert ‘Rob’ Paul Rose was the shooting guard for the Los Angeles Clippers for the 1988-1989 season. As a point guard that spent time playing in three countries, namely Australia, Israel, and Venezuela, many thought that Rose was the professional basketball player the Clippers needed to win playoffs.
Rose was able to sign a 19-day contract with the LA team after three years of being undrafted. But, his only chance failed as he wasn’t able to land a single shot during the three minutes he was in court.
Final Words – Reasons NBA Players Retire
The average retirement age for NBA players is in their mid-thirties. The causes for these professional basketball athletes to let go of their careers vary for each person. But, some of these reasons include injuries and poor performance in the court.
On the other hand, some NBA players, like Vince Carter and Kevin Willis, lasted longer in the league than others. However, certain players, such as Tyson Wheeler and Rob Rose, didn’t pursue the professional basketball life after a minuscule time playing for their teams.